The financial burden caused by the pandemic has left thousands of senior citizens – who make up about 16 percent of Suffolk County residents – without the prescription drugs they need to …
The financial burden caused by the pandemic has left thousands of senior citizens – who make up about 16 percent of Suffolk County residents – without the prescription drugs they need to live. Many county residents who lost their jobs and health insurance are unable to afford basic medications.
“New Yorkers are being forced to make impossible decisions between picking up their prescriptions and buying groceries,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), said at a press conference earlier this month. “Health care is a human right – not a privilege. Right now, lifesaving medicine is only lifesaving if you can afford it.”
Approximately 15.6 percent of Brookhaven Town residents are age 65 or older, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. And in 2017, the average age of the town’s residents was 50.
While Long Island faces financial insecurity due to the pandemic, drug makers continue to raise the prices of prescription drugs. At the beginning of 2021, over 100 pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer raised prices on over 600 drugs, according to a report from advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs.
Nearly 9 in 10 older adults take prescription medications, and an estimated 1 in 4 claims that it's difficult to afford them. Data from Georgetown University shows that adults pay almost half of their expenses for prescription drugs out-of-pocket – yet persons aged 65 to 79 pay 56 percent, and individuals aged 80 and older pay 67 percent of their total drug expenditures out-of-pocket.
But hope could be on the way. Three proposed bills sponsored by Gillibrand could reduce the cost of prescription drugs by up to 50 percent.
Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Aging Committee, outlined the bills at a press conference outside the West Islip Senior Center, alongside Islip Town supervisor Angie Carpenter and Medford-based Suffolk Independent Living Organization chief executive officer Joseph Delgado.
If enacted, the trio of bills would ensure that the prices of prescriptions in the United States are on par with prices in Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Japan, and allow wholesalers to import lower-cost drugs from other countries.
Under current law, the Secretary of Health and Human Services is prohibited from negotiating lower drug prices on behalf of Medicare Part D beneficiaries. Yet, other government programs like Medicaid are allowed to negotiate.
One of the bills, the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act, would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D. Anti-diabetes medication like Januvia, which normally costs $586, could cost $293 under the plan.
The last bill in the set, the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act, would allow patients, pharmacists, and wholesalers to import safe, affordable medicine from Canada and other major countries.
Delgado said that individuals with disabilities and seniors are the largest group that seek the benefits of prescription drugs, “yet we struggle to be able to obtain or acquire medication sometimes because of financial resources.”
Gillibrand said the bill could save the government an estimated $456 billion over a decade.
“That’s money we could use to address so many challenges that New Yorkers are facing right now, from access to health care to affordable childcare,” Gillibrand said.